State of the Fandom Interview 2009

Recently, I was able to catch up with Fred of Fred's Workshop, the VariQuest, and one of the secret members behind the Dairycon convention. After baiting a trap with doughnuts and a new Huffer variant, we managed to ensnare him long enough to answer a few questions about Transformers, Conventions, and the state of the world in general.

Questions below in BOLD text are from Methusalen, Fred's responses to the questions are in plain text.

Thank you for taking the time to sit down for an interview.

You're welcome!

I understand you usually like to avoid interviews?

I claim shyness.

So why did you agree to sit down and talk with us?

You wouldn't leave (munches on a doughnut).

OK, so ignoring my methods... what was your first introduction to the world of the Transformers? How did they take ahold of a place in your heart and manage to stay there for so long?

Like most of my 'generation', I grew up watching the Transformers on television... no small feat back in the day, when you have two channels, neither of which comes in clearly. I wonder if there are videophiles who prefer their television transmission thru an antenna, much the way audiophiles prefer their records full of noise over a clear compact disk?

As to why they have remained in my heart for so long, I imagine it was the excellent storyline and the unique 'fiddle factor' that Transformers provided my young mind.

Or else it was the insidious corporate marketing strategy. Either way.

Along with Dairycon (and it's affiliated group the "DTF"), other fans of the Transformers are most likely to recognize you for your "Variquest" project. When did you begin working on the site? What prompted you to begin that monumental task of categorizing the different mold variations/paint applications/running changes between otherwise 'identical' toys? What was the first figure that you noticed a difference in?

As Dogbert would say, "That information is available on my website..." :-) As for the first variant, I think it went something along the lines of, 'Hey, why doesn't this jetpeg fit into my wing?!...'

It's been downhill from there.

Do you have a 'favorite' variant?

All of them.

With new lines of Transformers figures coming out all the time, what are your continuing plans for the Variquest? There are some people out there who say that the project had been abandoned, what do you have to say to them?

The site is hardly abandoned. I simply update once or twice a year instead of every month. Dairycon takes up most of our time and creative juices, these days...

Excuse me, 'Our' creative juices?

There's no way I could do Dairycon, or VariQuest by myself. There's a talented, unsung group of people dedicated to bringing this dream to reality. Some of them are super-secret members of the shadowy group Autocon, others exist right under everyone's noses.

Wait, wait, shadow groups? Autocon?

I've already said too-much.

The 2009 Dairycon convention introduces the character of "Toiletbot" to the Dairycon Universe. What can you tell us of his 'real life' origins ten years ago?

He was born out of the notion that, while hard work is soon forgotten, something funny will last forever.

Name your favorite comedians. Now name your favorite presidents. Which list is longer?

The original Toiletbot was photographed and shown in two separate magazines, was this a driving force in your future projects?

When I first assembled him, Toiletbot made me giggle. I wasn't sure anyone else shared this sense of humor. Turns out I needn't have worried.

Over the years, you have returned to the character of Toiletbot. Why bring back Toiletbot?

I would ask, 'why not?' Is there ever a bad time for Toiletbot? What if Toiletbot is the essence of everything in the fandom?

Most things start as Toilet humor... and eventually end up back there. Actionmasters, Pretenders, Jumpstarters, you name it- pick a stupid tf gimmick and we'll weld a toilet to it.

That would make for a great poster: 'Toiletbot: A hero for the Ages'. He apparently states that most Transformers are crap.

I think that notion speaks for itself.

While I might be a little flushed with excitement, how do you plan to introduce him to the Dairycon universe? Why as a 'reissue' and not a 'Classics' version, using the 'infamous' third mode for Cybertron Shortround? What makes this character so special?

Flushed with excitement? Now that's to how he'll tie into the Dairycon universe, that will be revealed in an upcoming story, entitled 'The Myth Behind the Moo.' I don't want to spoil it, except to say that part one will be on the site very soon.

As to why we used his original Toiletbot form, see above. The original brings home the point much more directly than anything else we could have done.

You've stated that without Toiletbot, there would be no Dairycon? Can you explain this statement?


How did Toiletbot lead to Uncle Whiskey Breath, Heffer, Spot, Ass-09, and the other characters that inhabit the Dairycon Universe?

Ran out of toilets.

Why "Dairycon"? Who/how'd that name get chosen? If you recall, were there any other options for the name? What could have Dairycon have been known as?

It was almost called CowPie. Count your blessings.

Speaking of Dairycon, when and how did you decide to put together your own convention? Please tell us how it all came together? How many people showed up the first year? Where did the idea for an exclusive figure come from?


I'll reimagine your question to mean, 'how did we graduate from making fun of tfs to making fun of tf conventions?'

It's an evolution, I'd imagine. Transformers are about change. When things change, sometimes holes pop up, and the system reaches out to fill in that hole.

When did you get the 'aha' moment about when Dairycon "Made it"? ----(follow-up)-Can you site any examples of these 'parodies of the parody'?

Have we 'made it'? I didn't know. Seriously, someone really ought to put out a memo on this. I wasn't informed.

When people start taking the parody seriously, it's time to bow out. I kid you not, we've found knockoffs of the Dairycon exclusives, there's a kid who wants to make some kind of yu-gi-oh game cards of the characters, several attendees have made their own t-shirts... heck, someone at Hassenfeld Brothers inadvertently took a couple of our parodies, and made them into legitimate characters. I often wonder who at corporate was so straining for an idea, that they had to slip in some of ours ;-) Funny when you think about it.

I also know of a few people over the years that made their own Toiletbot. That's kind of heartening.

Some of the others might say that you know your show has made it when people start asking the classic questions. You know, the ones where people ask if they have to shower before the show, and you actually have to put out an FAQ on the subject of personal hygiene...

So how much money do you make off a show like this?

Money? Are you nuts?

You don't make money off of something like this. Just ask Jon and Karl. We're a pro-deficit organization :-) We do this for fun, not to make money. How do you make money off something you essentially give away?

I believe that when you start to try to make money off this kind of thing, then you've completely missed the point. Obviously, there needs to be a large organization, such as McBotcon, to do the heavy lifting. And frankly, I'm a fan of their business model; it proves that there's money to be made, or else they wouldn't be doing it. At the same time, I believe we have an obligation to prove the opposite is true; you have to prove that it's not about the money :-) Quite a tough row to hoe, when you consider it's based on, essentially, one slick and ancient toy-based marketing strategy.

That's the essential function of fancons, the one thing they can do that the big shows can't. Fancons aren't about the money. They can't be; if they were, they'd be gobbled up by the big boys. Or morph into a Big Boy themselves. Again, just ask Jon and Karl.

Operating at that next level, you tend to lose something essential, something primal, if you'll pardon the pun. You leave some of the fandom behind. This small 'niche' market is where I believe fancons reside. Those that cannot honestly afford (or cannot justify) the admittedly high cost of conventions or toys tend to go to the smaller shows, interact with like-minded people. Make smaller purchases more in-line with their perceived budget. It keeps their interest alive, which keeps the brand alive. These are the folks that the 'sizzle' marketing strategy just doesn't apply to. They are, to some, the true fans of the mythos.

In all aspects of our society, and certainly in Transfandom, there's a system at work. Not in the classic rich/poor caste system you might expect (though the market is desperately trying to push the fandom that way). I refer more to a school of thought; we're divided intellectually. Those that have certain espoused high-minded ideals to go along with their love, and those who go for all the gusto they can grab :-) They exist in all income brackets. And people tend to gravitate from one to the other over time. I won't say which way they tend to go. Only that there's a bit of a dichotomy when you exist (or claim to exist) in both those modes of thought at the same time.

If you think about it, the perceived sickness that grips the fandom is mirrored by the one that currently grips our society. It's just more noticeable these days.

There will be many iterations of this concept, spread across the continents, at least as long as there are fans (anti-fans?) of the mythos.

I know people will buy any damn thing, but that's not our target audience. Our target is your funny bone. How did we do?

You want another example of a parody of a parody? How about when someone offers to make a 'classics' version of ToiletBot in-homage to the original? :-)

Sorry if that was wordy.

Of the different Dairycon convention activities, there seems to be a lot of love for the Jumpstarter Races. Where did the idea for the race come from? How did you amass such a collection of WORKING Jumpstarters? Where's your love for these figures come to be? Uncle Whiskey Breath is a Jumpstarter, Toiletbot is made up of Twin Twist parts, any reason for that?

Ah good, something a bit lighter (and much more fun) to wash out the taste of the previous question :-) As I said, it's all about the love. Jumpstarters were the unloved stepchild of the mainline G1 Transformers. They deserve their due, in any format.

I suppose every fandom has its one nutball collector who obsessively builds a collection of some seemingly worthless thing, be it pennies, bottle caps, or apparently Jumpstarters. We have just such a nutball on-staff. He probably collected pennies in a previous life. He graciously allow some of his precious Jumpstarters to be pressed into service each year for the benefit of the show. I think the fans appreciate it.

Besides, Jumpstarters are fun. You should have seen this year's race. It came down to a redo of the last heat. The winner actually launched his jumpstarter off the race table, into the air, landed it on *another* table, standing, for the win. It was the best, most intense race I've ever seen. I've never had that kind of thrill from watching NASCAR, or the Superbowl. It was magic.

The Dairycon Universe is full of interesting characters and a wonderful storyline. Do you write these yourself? How do you come up with the ideas for the stories/character bios?

The Dairycon Universe could not exist without the assistance and dedication of the members of the DTF. There are many people who contribute thoughts, ideas, and sometimes characters to the mythos. All are welcome. Obviously, as a parody of an actual show, we're aiming for your funny bone, not your pocketbook. We end up with characters that probably wouldn't be done anywhere else, in any format. Having said that, I'm always waiting for some large nameless corporation to decide that funny is the way to go, steal a couple of our characters, and put them into a minicon 12-pk at Kmart :-) That would make the Dairycon Universe canon, wouldn't it? Or at least, it would make us as legitimate as Jaam....

I will freely admit that I absolutely ADORE the Heffer figure, which figure or character would be your favorite?

The one that hasn't been released yet, of course :-) But seriously, isn't that a bit like asking a parent which child is their favorite? I love all the Dairycons equally. There is a bit of a freestanding notion in the core group that each Dairycon character represents a particular fan... I'm always more interested in hearing what Dairycon characters are the fandom's favorite.

Coming up with the characters *could* be considered the easy part. How do you come up with the design for the figures themselves? What kind of work and effort goes into each figure? What is the time frame for developing & creating each years' exclusives?

There's no easy part :-)

What can we expect to see at future Dairycons?

Everything you could ever want in a convention based on cows. You will have an udderly fantastic time.

Any hints you'd like to give out regarding next year? A passing mention of which character we'll see in figure form? Any hints as to what we'll see in the next story arc?

2010 will be the best year ever, with the greatest figures ever. And you'd better attend, because you're not going to get another chance.

Finally, on the Dairycon website, there's a blurb under the (as-of-yet) unreleased THE RETURN OF CONVOY FanFic that makes mention of "The true and final end of the Dairycon Universe!!", what can you say about that? Will 2010 be the end of the Dairycon Convention and all the characters we've come to love? Have you forsaken us? What is this all about?

No Comment.

Thank you for the opportunity to ask a few questions of you. I hope we might be able to shed some light on the Dairycon convention, of Life, the Universe and Everything...

Happy to help. Hopefully, if we've not helped, we've at least muddied the waters a bit further.

And Remember, a clean toilet is a happy toilet.